Just a little over a year after their last trip to Montreal, Bad Religion are back in town tonight for a sure-to-be-sold-out gig at the Metropolis. I had the chance to speak with the band’s bassist Jay Bentley on an early morning of last week and here’s what we talked about.
The Concordian: We had a chance to talk a year ago before you came to Montreal. At that time the U.S. elections were on their way. Over the past year, has anything changed for Bad Religion?
Bentley: Believe it or not, we are more cynical (laughs) if that’s possible! But I also think there’s maybe a sort of feeling of quiet desperation where you start to realize that as people, not as a band, as American citizens you have no say. And you come to that realization and you are just like wow, this is not ok at all.
The Concordian: The Empire Strikes First has been out for a little while now, did it do everything you guys wanted it to do?
Bentley: I think maybe on this record, when we put it out we thought we were saying how we feel. I didn’t think that the record would have had that kind of impact, but it would have been nice to have an administration change with the last election. I would have never thought that Bad Religion and The Empire Strikes First was responsible for any part of that but that was kind of the intention and it would have been satisfying to see that happen. That’s really it. We were talking earlier when the record first came out and I said that I would gladly trade any future success of that record for an administration change and for the war in Iraq to be resolved.
The Concordian: But that’s a pretty big goal, so were you disappointed?
Bentley: Yah, totally! I wasn’t disappointed as a band member and I wasn’t disappointed as a musician but I was disappointed as a human being. I was disappointed in other human beings that they somehow or another thought that what America was doing was right.
The Concordian: Since then, has Bad Religion worked on any new material? Do you find it hard to be inspired today or are you more inspired to write?
Bentley: I don’t know. All I know is that we haven’t really written anything. We’ve been talking about going into the studio but I think really it is like; Where do we go from here? Logically, Bad Religion has been singing about human beings for 25 years. We don’t really talk about Americans. They are part of what we sing about because we sing about what it’s like to wake up and have your hopes and aspirations about your day and your children or your job, your wife or whatever, but that doesn’t matter whether you are an American or Iranian or Australian or Italian. You wake up in the morning and have those feelings because you are a human being. So that’s really what we’ve been writing about. There have been few instances where we’ve pointed at Americans and said “well it’s not that great and you are not helping anybody”.
The Concordian: Bad Religion has always written music that had a message. It seems as though not many bands do that today. Do you feel that that’s been lost?
Bentley: I don’t think that it’s lost, it’s not really popular but it really never has been. Politically, I’ll use that word, the most popular band was Rage Against The Machine. A political band is never going to have as much pull as an emo band but that being said this is an art and it is entertainment. This isn’t a political format, this isn’t a forum to expose your political views. Most people who put out a record don’t want to be lectured to. They want to listen to music and relax and unwind and not think about anything. I do as well. I don’t necessarily want to put on a Crass record every day and have someone screaming at me to make a difference. I can figure that one out on my own. I just want to put on something easy and smile and have fun.
The Concordian: But at the same time, isn’t there a need for certain artists to talk about things that are going on in the world?
Bentley: Yah, because the arts, not just music, the arts in general are the canary and the coalmine. If you care to look deep enough what you find, how people really feel and what their fears and frustrations are. It’s kind of like with music, when I was growing up, bands seemed larger than life and bands seemed to live this unobtainable dream of hookers and blow and limousines and I was thinking “Wow! Rock N’ Roll is rad!” But when punk rock came along it kind of tore that wall down and said like, now we’re all just the same people here. It made a big difference in my view of what was obtainable. Obviously that’s changed now in terms of popularity but it wasn’t the most popular style of music when it happened. Not that many people were strapping on a guitar saying, “Hey, we’re going to be the next Black Flag!” (Laughs) There was no Green Day, there was no Offspring or Good Charlotte. You didn’t think of being in a punk rock band as a popular choice. Popularity wasn’t really an issue.
The Concordian: Do you think that having talked about human issues and just about what’s going on in the world, has helped or harmed you in any way?
Bentley: No more so than the choice of our name, emblem and other things that we’ve done in the past but that’s whatever, that’s what we do, what we are and I would never look back and say boy, if I would have done something differently we would be more popular because we’re 100, 000 times more popular than I ever believed possible. To look at that in a negative light and say I want more, that’s appalling to me. I’m unbelievably satisfied with everything that we’ve accomplished.
The Concordian: Today, there are many different branches of punk rock music and a lot of these bands are charting and getting air and video play. Did you ever think that would be possible? Do you think that the punk scene is healthy right now?
Bentley: Yah, because in 1980, punk rock and new wave, there wasn’t even the word alternative yet, but this all fell under the same umbrella. It wasn’t Rock N’ Roll. If you weren’t Van Halen or AC/DC you were this freak that feel under this punk rock banner. There were a ton of bands that were so talented and so good and I would say “these guys should be as big as everybody else because they are that good” but they never were. With the success of Nirvana to Green Day to Offspring and to now a slew of other punk rock bands, it really opens the door for people to say “I like Good Charlotte” and it becomes a bridge band and maybe they’ll find The Clash. That can never be a bad thing, right? If Good Charlotte has 8 million fans and 8,000 of those find their way to The Clash, that’s a pretty good thing.
The Concordian: Do you think it’s important for the younger generation to go back and find out about the history of punk rock?
Bentley: It’s one of those things where if someone sees a band that they like, wearing a t-shirt of that band or mentioning that band in an interview, or saying something like “this band was really important” that’s when they’ll go back and find it. It’s hard now because there are so many bands, there are so many options and choices, when you go to a record store you are overwhelmed with how many bands there are. So why would you go look at The Clash when you are trying to figure out whether you want to buy Alexisonfire or Fall Out Boy. There are too many things to think about so it gets confusing. You have to look at your peers, that’s still a big thing.
So if your friends all like Van Halen, then you’ll go like “Oh yah, I kind of like Van Halen too” (laughs). It’s just how we are as human beings. But the other part of it is when you hear a song and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up that’s when you have to be willing to strike out on your own and go into the music store and go “I heard this song, I don’t know what the band was” or find it on the internet and then you start doing research and then you find out that maybe the band was that band. Maybe you heard Neat, Neat, Neat and it made the hair on the back of your neck stand up and you have no idea who it is and as far as you are concerned they can be brand new. Those are the people who really go back and find catalogues and the history of the music and go “wow! This is amazing!”
The Concordian: Because so many things are more accessible now through MTV or magazines, do you think that the younger generation is a little lazier?
Bentley: I don’t know if “lazy” is the appropriate word. I would say, “Confused to the point of apathy” and that’s a big difference. Lazy is willfully neglecting your life and being confused to the point of apathy is being inundated with so many choices, you just sit down and go “I don’t know what to do, so I’m not going to do anything”.
The Concordian: Bad Religion’s been on countless tours over the years. What would consist of a good tour for Bad Religion?
Bentley: Um, that’s a good question! I think we really like playing together. So really a good tour is finding a stride and it has nothing to do with the venues or the cities but finding a stride within ourselves where we are playing shows and after those shows we are like “that was really good!” and that’s a good tour. So when you have a lot of those shows you are like “Wow, that was a good tour!” we really felt good about what we did. Sometimes like anything else you go out and you are having off nights but if you are having too many off nights in a row you are starting to think that that isn’t good. (Laughs) A good tour is not having bad nights.
The Concordian: For the Montreal show, you will be playing with Anti-Flag and The Flatliners, how important is it for you guys to choose bands that you respect or for you to encourage younger bands?
Bentley: The first part of that question is that we try to bring bands that we want to see and hang out with basically because you see them every night so you want to bring out someone that you want to watch and be fascinated by. I am fascinated by this band and they were our choice. I think that trying to deliver something to people that isn’t just a five-hour Bad Religion fest, I know that’s such an egotistical thing. There was a point in our career when we were going out on tours and the bands that were being put on the bill from management or labels or booking agents, we’d go on these tours and it would be us and another band that sounded like us and another band that sounded like us and I remember standing up one day and saying “I won’t have this anymore!” We can’t have six hours of Bad Religion, it’s just not cool. So we’ve really tried to make it, each band has its own unique sound. That’s what I remember from L.A. in 1980; bands didn’t strive to sound alike, bands really wanted to have their own identifiable sound. But right now because of the popularity of punk rock, bands want to sound like popular bands. If the Offspring sound a little like Bad Religion and they are selling 17 million records then people are going to be like “we’ll start a band like Offspring!” All of a sudden you have all of these bands just doing “Ooos” and “Ahhhs”, they are all doing the same chord structures and it’s just like, why? Why are you sounding like them? (Laughs) So that’s kind of been the focus for us when we go on tour, is to bring bands that are different, whether it would be Anti-Flag or Sparta or SuperSuckers, there’s always been an attempt to bring bands that were not Bad Religion-esque.
The Concordian: What would you say is Bad Religion’s mission today?
Bentley: Play the show tonight and that’s about it! There’s really no point of getting too far ahead of yourself and making some sort of master plan, there’s just no need to have that kind of pressure. If you just take it day by day and make sure that what you are doing is relevant and that you are having fun and that this is what you feel creatively comfortable doing, then it’s a great thing!
The Concordian: Are you where you thought you would be a couple of years ago?
Bentley: No, way! (Laughs) I’ve learned to never try to predict the future and certainly never get comfortable in your every day life, thinking that this is how it’s going to be. A lot of people have been saying “life throws you curve balls” and my response has been “I’m going to learn how to hit a curve ball!” (Laughs).
Bad Religion play at the Metropolis tonight with Anti-Flag and The Flatliners. Tickets are $28.50 and the show starts at 8 p.m.